How Multitasking Kills Productivity and the Brain

If you consider yourself a multitasker, chances are you’re just used to jumping from one activity to the next. Read about how this decreases productivity and negatively affects your brain in our article. 

Being busy all the time is essential – more is better! Idleness kills! Friendly attitudes? It turns out that they not only lower self-esteem and discourage doing anything. Living under these mottos is seriously damaging to your mental and physical health.

How Multitasking Kills Productivity and the Brain

The ability to multitask is often bragged about in resumes, and most employers put it forward as a requirement in job descriptions. But the human brain is different from a computer: we cannot multitask at the same time. According to scientists from Stanford, when a person switches between tasks, his brain gets tired faster and becomes less efficient. As a result, the work turns out to be of poor quality and incomplete. At the same time, professors from Yale University note that the change of similar simple tasks only increases productivity.

Sometimes multitasking is called a relatively harmless thing. For example, they mean the sequential execution of several important tasks within a limited time interval. It means not rushing to do everything at once but distributing time wisely in advance. Doing it is not so easy: you need organization and analytical thinking. And even this approach becomes harmful if it is misused. A cheap paper writing service will tell you how to work correctly at the end of the article.

Types of multitasking

Parallel multitasking is trying to do two things at once and for example, leafing through Instagram while watching TV, doing the math to your favorite song, or drawing in a notebook in parallel with a phone conversation.

Consistent multitasking – frequently switching between activities. If you get bored quickly with a literature essay and decide to check your messages and then chat with a friend, that’s sequential multitasking.

Delusion 1. “Partial Attention.”

Some people believe that they can devote part of their attention to each of several tasks. That is, not fully immerse themselves in any of them, but still, do everything effectively. It is a misconception. The brain cannot process different information at the same time.

Often proponents of this approach forget what they were doing five minutes ago, ask questions that have already been answered, and even fall into the trap of their brain – remembering things that did not happen. The first two points are more or less clear, but what does the third mean?

The brain can only concentrate on one task. It means that it is impossible to think about two things simultaneously- instead, we quickly switch between them. During the switches, some of the information is lost. The brain doesn’t like those gaps, so it fills them in on its own. For example, during a work call, you think a colleague has asked you something important. You cannot get rid of the certainty that it happened but do not remember the request. It may not have been – it was your brain “finished” the piece that it was missing.

It happens significantly often when the action is expected. If you are asked for something important at every meeting, your brain chooses the most likely scenario when there is a lack of information. So when you refresh your social media feed during a conversation and then can’t remember if you were asked something – don’t be surprised.

Misconception 2. “Start more things, get more done.” 

Imagine that you are performing a complex task. It takes a lot of effort and time to get to the bottom of it and solve it. So after twenty minutes of work, you decide to do something simpler to “unload” your brain. For example, to check your mail or write something in the diary. And the problem is not even that the more straightforward task is often stretched out for a long time. With this action, you strain your brain and get more tired.

Now for the scientific explanation.

There are four types of memory: short-term, long-term, operative, and intermediate. We are interested in the last two. Our working memory helps us get the job done: we retrieve information and recall facts we need for a specific task. The intermediate one accumulates information and is completely cleared during sleep. When you perform a complex task, it takes up all of your working memory.

Suddenly – a spontaneous decision to check your mail. The brain has a more challenging time with this switch than it might seem. Now it moves the difficult task to the intermediate memory because the working memory should be busy looking at your mail.

Note that it doesn’t matter to the brain how big and complex the second task is. The algorithm is the same either way. To get back to the original study, you have to do the moving procedure again. Does the brain expend more energy? Do you get more tired afterward?

Don’t forget that the brain has a limited memory capacity. The more you are distracted by secondary tasks, the less space is left for the primary one. When you work in this mode, you lose your concentration and your working spirit. And at the end of the day, you find that the time has gone in the middle of nowhere, and you haven’t managed to do anything.

Chronic multitasking – a bad habit for the brain

Of the two things we always want to do, we always want to do the more pleasant, even if it is not the most important. If you don’t control your brain, it will be constantly distracted by this lovely “thing” and will stop doing the main task altogether. Such a bad habit is called “chronic multitasking.”

Again, a little bit of theory. The brain likes to save energy, so it often stalls us and makes us lazy. Without realizing it, we become its hostages and let it determine our habits. We increasingly want to take a break, even if we’ve barely worked, or check our messages, even though we were doing it a minute ago. It is why our goal is not to fall into the trap of our brain. The only way to do this is to get in the habit of concentrating on even the most unwanted task. For example, if you’re compiling a nasty report without being distracted by messages, then you’re successfully preventing the development of chronic multitasking.

The brain is not adapted to multitasking, so neural structures wear out because of it. The adolescent brain is, particularly at risk. If you don’t learn to concentrate early, it is much more difficult later on. An adult male’s improper approach to multitasking can lower IQ by 15 points, as scientists from the University of London found. 

How to work properly

  • When a task takes no more than an hour, complete it at once. If you have dozens of jobs a day at work, don’t try to do them all at once. Finish what you’ve started consistently – that way, you’re less tired, and your brain doesn’t form bad habits;
  • The 20 Minute Rule. In cases were switching between tasks is still necessary, use this rule. Instead of chaotically switching jobs, fully concentrate on one goal for 20 minutes, and then move on to the next one;
  • Get stuck to work. Develop the habit of working and resting for a fixed amount of time. For example, after 45 minutes of intense activity, rest for about 10-15 minutes. To avoid checking the time every five minutes, start a timer (but make sure that the signal does not distract your colleagues);
  • Do the most “unpleasant” things first. That way, you won’t think about the unpleasant or essential task ahead of you during the day. In the morning, you are full of energy, which means complex tasks are more manageable;
  • Turn off all messengers. The importance of constant communication is exaggerated – you do not need to be in touch 24/7 to maintain relationships or control what is happening. Turn off all irritants to stay focused;
  • Capture results. Start each workday with a plan, and at the end, write out what you succeeded in accomplishing and what you didn’t. It disciplines the brain and motivates you to stick to the schedule.

Bio:

Jeanna Bray is a person who finds the right words and forms of presentation to convey the benefits students get when addressing PaperHelp experts for research and writing assistance. You can hardly name a top-ranked copywriting course – free or paid – that she hasn’t attended while pursuing a BA in Digital Communication.

How Multitasking Kills Productivity and the Brain
Josh Linus
Josh can talk films for hours on end, discussing the really good cinema, the really bad, and anything in between. He enjoys everything - from epic fantasies to horror, from rom-coms to crime and action thrillers, from sci-fi to musical dramas.
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